Monday, July 9, 2018

responsibility v. unforgivable asshole

Been thinking about privilege a lot. It's a hot topic in the social warrior world and has become the scarlet letter tattooed to the foreheads of folks who fall into the current accepted class.

On a comparative scale, I've always lived with a degree of privilege:

1. I am caucasian
2. I grew up in a two-parent household
3. My parents were employed
4. I have always had a roof over my head.

That finger-pointing, shun-worthy scarlet P follows me like a junior-high "kick me" sign taped to my back.

Comparatives go both ways. I could write this the other direction. Could write about years of money being tight, of how we lived in a crap neighborhood when I was little, etc. I prefer to talk about how privileged as in grateful I feel that my parents busted their asses. My dad grew up on a working farm. Money was a rare blessing. He was born with a pretty huge birth defect and was Irish-Catholic. Catholic charities hospital did corrective surgery when he was a toddler ... at almost no cost.   That's huge. Without that charity I wouldn't be here. He'd have never made it off the farm.

He was the first/only one from his family who went to college. Same is true for my mom, born to an immigrant dad who literally built the house she grew up in. Himself.

My mom worked - doesn't sound all that earth-shattering. But in the blue-collar neighborhood that was the step up from where we lived before, it wasn't common. She went to work because it was the only way they could maybe send us kids to college.

There are loads of people who had it worse and loads more who had more privilege. I am grateful for how hard my grandparents worked. Literally, physically worked. They survived the Great Depression. Most of their kids survived too. Because two generations busted their asses, I did so less.

Dial forward. In high school, if I wanted what my friends had, I had to work too. Fine. In high school I got a job. I had a history of bone-tired hard working family behind me. I never questioned work was mandatory for survival.

Dial forward several decades. I have a nice roof over my head. My kids are going/have gone to university and we are only student-loaning a portion of it. I have a car I like driving, food isn't a question and there's "extra". Not tons by comparison to my environment given where I live...but extra nonetheless.

And I am unashamed. I know this privilege wasn't a random windfall from the gods. My parents and my grandparents worked their assess off so the subsequent generations would have a leg up. I don't worry about racial profiling and I don't face the scrutiny and judgment that still confronts the LGBQT community.

In the maelstrom and firestorm of "privilege = unforgiven asshole" I'm happy to be who and where I am. Like my parents I worked my ass off, because they required it of me. And now, I get to do something with all that privilege. I could be an asshole. I could lord it over people and tsk-tsk suffering and I could say "well why don't you just get a job".

Here's the thing. There's nothing shameful about being able to pay the bills or going on a vacation. You know the whole power = responsibility? It applies. To any one of us who stand on the shoulders of people who scraped out survival in generations prior. Privilege gets a bad rap when we behave like spoiled little monsters instead of adults with a degree of leverage. There's no shortage of spoiled monsters, but privilege = unforgivable asshole isn't a physical state of being, it's a mental one.

Leverage is power gained from the use of a tool. Privilege is a lever. How I choose to use that lever determines whether or not I function as an unforgivable asshole or I function as productive. I'm sure sometimes I am an asshole because most humans are assholes periodically. Being ashamed is a force amplifier too...but I'm not a fan of the results of that. If you have a roof over your head, food is available and you can pay your bills, you too have a degree of privilege.

Being ashamed of it does no one any good. Your privilege is a lever. Use it well and use it wisely. Make the little world around you a better place. Yeah, it sounds trite but no kidding, you have the power to do so .... pretending you don't makes you the unforgivable asshole, not your privilege.

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